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Leveraging Context in Design

What we decide to share with a digital service changes drastically based on context. These changing contexts present a design opportunity.

By meeting people's expectations seamlessly, we establish trust. With that trust, it's possible to provide a streamlined experience that simultaneously fosters a greater understanding of privacy and data.

At Design Jams around the world, TTC Labs has explored different ways in which we might establish this trust: presenting information up-front, on demand, and in context.

How can we get critical information about data delivered to the right people, in the right way, in the right place... at the right time?

Behind the scenes, digital services can be (very) complicated.

Services try to make these complicated technical features feel simple and easy.


Think about how many decisions we make whenever we start using a new service.

Some of those decisions are easier to make than others

This creates some tension.

We all want simple, friendly, easy-to-use digital services while also understanding exactly what 
data we'll be offering in exchange.


How do we design for both?

How can we signpost the road to understanding, while still quickly getting people where they want to go?

Here’s one way of thinking about how we can structure data and privacy information throughout the user experience:

Imagine you're going on a road trip...

...but you get all the directions before you even turn the engine on.

This is what often happens with digital services. We’re asked to absorb a lot of information up front.

And while it’s great to be informed, we’re often just impatient to get going.

Now imagine this:

You're driving to your destination.

But you start feeling a little unsure about the route, so you pull over to check the map.

In digital services, the settings menu gives us some on-demand control over what data we're sharing and how it's being used.


But we don't go to the settings menu everyday. It can be hard to find, difficult to understand, and – frankly – just not a priority.

Now, imagine that you're driving and you're using the street signs to navigate.

This is really useful, because you're getting the right information at the right time.

And imagine how useful it would be if those signs were aware of what you were trying to do and able to respond?

Design that understands our context means we’re forced to learn less, but can understand more.

In digital services, presenting data and privacy information in context, alongside the main experience, can help us make more informed choices.

So here's three ways that digital services can embed a data disclosure moment into the main experience.

Up front

Immediate disclosure should be the simplest and most straightforward, in theory. It gives people the clearest choice.

But upfront disclosure isn't always as helpful as you'd think. People are already overloaded with new information and want to get going.


On demand

A settings menu can feel like an easy solution, but the accessibility and discoverability make it challenging.

This option asks people to go out of their way, requiring a level of expertise and knowledge in order to engage.

In context

By offering assistance in context, we can embed learning moments wherever they're most relevant. Technical execution can be more complex, yes–but it means we can truly help people navigate their path.

Providing the right information, at the right time - or in context - is one powerful tool we can use in order to design for better trust, transparency and control.

Designing for context requires multiple degrees of consideration, yes. But when done well, we can educate people through a compelling educational experience.

TTC LENS Leveraging Context in Design

Viewpoints Leverage Context
In Design

Here are some ways product designers, privacy experts and policy makers have been exploring the problems, with TTC Labs.


Report Insights from co-designing with teenagers

Context is fluid. Over a two-year window, a teenager's self-perception changes dramatically–and so does the way they interact with an app. How should a digital service cater for this evolution?

Read more in this report from design agency Normally

Read more

Insights Why law needs design

Who do young people trust? What are the most engaging ways to present dense information about legal processes? Where are touchpoints in the community where young people find the most trustworthy legal options?

Traditional legal approaches don't always think about context, engagement, or human experience.

Read more about why the law itself needs design.

Read more

Insights Earning people's trust step-by-step

People often object to signing an "all-or-nothing" deal up front. That is, they don't like giving consent to ongoing data access without seeing any evidence of trustworthiness or the potential value exchange.

How can we change this? Consent can be gathered continuously in different contexts. And if a person is unhappy with the value exchange, they can withdraw access, too.

Read more

Insights Building trustworthy products

Throughout the user experience, we should consider every interaction as an opportunity to provide education and/or control. Data settings are too often confined to the onboarding flow when, in reality, engagement increases dramatically when controls appear contextually and evolve over time.

Read more about designing contextual settings as a business opportunity.

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"Delivering meaningful control over personal data requires coordination, communication, and understanding between digital citizens and the digital services that they use."

Richard Gomer

Research Fellow at the University of Southampton

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"Clicking on a button implies consequences, and consequences inspire people to evaluate risks and opportunities."

Romain Bessuges-Meusy

CEO of Axeptio.

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Florian Schaub

"Break up the information from the privacy policy into smaller chunks and deliver them at the times most appropriate and relevant for people. Now, a single privacy policy page covers all scenarios. But someone casually browsing a website doesn’t need all the information..."

Florian Schaub

Assistant Professor, University of Michigan

Tools Analyze transparency in context

Preparation: 30 mins; Delivery: 15 mins

Think your design is transparent? Take a look at the context in which your data use notices are delivered.

Learn more by trying our exercise from the TTC Toolkit.

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"There is an opportunity to increase the effectiveness of data education by thinking critically about the timing. When people are already at their most engaged, they are much more likely to understand the content."

TTC Labs

Data & Education Report

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TTC LENS Leveraging Context in Design

Prototypes Design Solutions In Action

These design prototypes demonstrate how Design Jam participants have designed for trust, transparency and control.



Paris 4th Dec 2017


The user experience can deteriorate when key features won't work without access to local and global settings, which are often controlled at the operating system level.


By cultivating trust across multiple contact points, this solution explores how to put people in control of their data with an easily discoverable central hub for all data permissions.

Learn more


São Paulo 25th Aug 2017


Location-based services need to work harder to build trust because of people's natural hesitation to share this kind of data.


This solution creatively explains exactly what location data is being used, and why, at any point in the flow that requires that information.

Learn more


Dublin 14th Nov 2017


The way apps engage with people about data use can be somewhat cold and formal. Moreover, people are asked to provide consent up front, before they can evaluate the trustworthiness and usefulness of the service.


This solution examines how to educate people in a visual way to illustrate how sharing data might be a worthwhile value exchange.

Learn more